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Chapter 34 : Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone
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connard (French) – bastard, douche. Not a good thing to call someone.
salons (French) – intellectual and artistic think tanks during the Age of Enlightenment in France.
“Ain't no sunshine when she's gone and she's always gone too long anytime she goes away.” – Bill Withers, 1971
Sirius Black let out a frustrated huff and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. He then turned his attention back to his Defense Against the Dark Arts homework.
Make up your own practice NEWT exam question and write a 2-foot essay to answer it. Be as specific and detailed as possible.
“Who the bloody hell does this woman think she is?” the Gryffindor cried. “Be as specific and detailed as possible – yeah? You know what sounds like a better idea? Listing all the ways Sabine Artro is a horrible Hogwarts Professor.”
He started to write out his grievances with his permanent quill on the parchment he’d reserved for his essay.
“One: she only specializes in the dangerous Dark Arts and barely knows any of the counter curses for every day jinxes. Two: she’s probably having an affair with Professor Stotch. Three: she makes her students write their own essays – prompt and all! – because she’s too preoccupied with something other than her job.”
Sirius expected to hear other additions to the list – “she’s a sham!”, “she’s only here because Dumbledore couldn’t find anyone else!”, or even “she’s a stone cold bitch!” – but when he looked up from his parchment, he realized that he was the only one in the secret room next to the Hospital Wing. His friends were attending to their own business; Peter was studying with Aeryn in the Library, James wanted to spend some alone time with Lily, and Remus was recuperating from his most recent transformation.
The pureblood sighed and crumpled up the used piece of parchment, throwing it at the bin near the door. The wad bounced off the rim and landed on the floor.
“Bugger,” Sirius muttered.
He reached into his bag, quickly found out that he didn’t have any spare materials, and swore. The Seventh Year considered sneaking into the Hospital Wing to nick some from Remus, but ultimately decided that his best mate needed his beauty sleep; he’d been too hyperactive the night before. Sirius sighed. The last Full Moon had thankfully happened a week before their NEWTs started, but it still forced him to study on his own and be a responsible young wizard, which was a skill he could never quite master.
And so, without anyone around him to tell him no, Sirius decided to procrastinate and used the Draconifors Spell to transfigure his quill, school bag, and used wad of parchment into miniature dragons. The animals started to fly around the shabby den and the boy swiftly turned into his animagus form to chase after them. He jumped up, caught one with his paws, and playfully wrestled with it while he was on his back. The dragon let out a puny roar and suddenly, another animal joined the fray as a window burst open and an owl clamored inside. It nervously screeched, flapped its wings, dropped off an envelope, and hit the wall as it escaped back outside.
Sirius stared at the unfamiliar parchment; he didn’t even notice the change back into his human form as he moved towards the table. The Gryffindor reached out to touch the letter, but stopped halfway when the window slammed shut. He dropped his hand back to his side and took several deep breaths, unable to move.
Was this the letter he had been waiting for? Could it truly be?
One of the dragons zoomed in front of Sirius’ face, snapping him back to reality. He transfigured the animals back to their original states, collapsed onto the desk chair, and stared at the unturned envelope.
He gulped. A few days after Gemma had been released from St. Mungo’s and allowed to recuperate at her family’s home in Islington, Sirius had drummed up the courage to contact her. Their separation didn’t matter; he needed to know how she was doing. But even though he’d owled her over a week ago, he’d never heard back from her. No praise for his kind words, no rejection via Howler - nothing, absolutely nothing.
At this rate, he didn’t know if he’d see or hear from her before the End of the Year Feast. But back to the matter at hand, he reminded himself.
He tried to trick his brain into believing that this was just a mistaken correspondence, but hyperventilated nonetheless; Sirius sprung to life and paced back and forth to calm his nerves. When his anxiousness subsided, he paused in front of the table and flipped over the envelope. His grey eyes scrutinized the unfamiliar handwriting.
Mr. Sirius Black, Hogwarts Castle
He grimaced before deciding to open the perplexing letter; it didn’t seem to be the one he was waiting for. He would have recognized her loopy handwriting immediately.
The Seventh Year lowered himself back onto the chair, ripped open the envelope, and knitted his brows in confusion when several Muggle post cards tumbled out. Nantucket, Atlantic City, Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, Tybee Island, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, several from New Orleans, Galveston; although Sirius didn’t recognize most of them, he noticed from the pictures that they all seemed to be American costal destinations. He curiously picked up the attached note and began to read.
Dear Mr. Black,
This is Tobias Rawnsley, Gemma’s father.
Sirius’ eyes widened.
I must apologize for making you wait this long for a response. We received your letter to Gemma the day after you sent it, but our return owl got lost - it came back to our Music Hall and dropped off an earlier draft of this note and it got misplaced. Well, hopefully this new owl found you rather quickly, because I paid a lot of money for the Express Mail option. Sorry, again.
It is with a heavy heart that I must share some bad news with you. Gemma is no longer with us.
Sirius stopped to catch his breath. He gasped, clutched his aching heart, and looked up at the ceiling. He didn’t want to read the rest of the letter, but forced himself to continue.
Oh Merlin, that sounds like she died or something. No, she’s alive, she’s just no longer living with us.
He swore and let out a short laugh before inhaling with deep relief.
But I’m afraid I still don’t know where she is. When they released her from St. Mungo’s, she spent a few days here at Headmaster Dumbledore’s request; the plan was for her to recuperate and then take her Sixth Year exams at a later date. But then she disappeared into the night and left a note saying there was somewhere she needed to go, someone she had to meet.
Needless to say, we were crushed. I don’t know if you’ll ever have a child who’s a wandering spirit, but I can tell you it’s not the most enjoyable experience in the world to hear that they’ve picked up and left again. But the next day, we received a postcard from Nantucket – Willow looked it up, it’s a small island on the East Coast of America. And every day after that, we’ve gotten a new postcard. As you can see, they are always blank, but something tells me they’re from Gemma. So she may or may not be traveling around America ... That’s all I can tell you. Please know that both of us wanted her to come back and finish her Sixth Year, but she apparently had other plans. What they are, I don’t know. I wish I did.
He leaned backwards his chair and tipped his head, rubbing his eyes lethargically. Again, he forced himself to read on.
I have not opened your letter, so I have no idea what you said to my daughter, but it is in my personal safe here at the Music Hall. If she reappears, it will be the first thing I give her because despite your infidelity, I think deep down you’re a good bloke (although, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give you a good smack for putting my little girl through all that pain and misery).
It was a pleasure to know you Sirius, if only for a couple days over the Christmas holidays.
The letter fell from his hand. Sirius stared up at the ceiling again, silence ringing in his ears. He honestly didn’t know what to feel; he wanted to be utterly pessimistic and morose because Gemma was Merlin knew where, but he also felt relieved that she was completely off the grid from everyone, including her parents. She didn’t ignore his letter, she had simply been unable to contact.
Yet, he still felt agitated and confused; he was unable to sort out all the jumbling questions in his brain. He jumped up from his chair and began to pace and when that didn’t work, he transformed into his dog form and ran around in circles. And when that didn’t work, Sirius decided that chain smoking might calm him down. He took out the cigarette pack from his blazer pocket, grabbed the letter from the floor, stuffed it in his trousers next to the Map, and climbed up to the top floor of the Hospital Tower.
He barely noticed the tears rolling down his cheeks.
Sirius went up the last step of the small staircase - craving the taste of nicotine - but was met with an unexpected surprise. Marianne was standing in front of the only window on the floor, smoking her own cigarette out of an elaborate holder. His heart raced with anticipation, for he and Marianne had never gotten along when he was out after hours, but froze when she glanced over at him.
Thick black mascara tracks dribbled down her face, giving her massive raccoon eyes.
Although she was his best mate’s ex, Sirius felt attracted to her, but only in the emotional sense. He normally distanced himself from her, but in this moment, he felt the need to share his pain. And she looked like she needed to do the same.
And so, without a second thought, Sirius placed his a cigarette between his lips and muttered a quick Fire Charm. His wand lit the end and he inhaled deeply as he walked over to the large windowsill; Marianne turned away, her mask firmly in place despite her messy face. As time passed, the two purebloods remained silent, stared at the creeping fog gathering over the Black Lake, and inhaled and exhaled smoke.
“So,” Sirius said, breaking the tension as he wiped his cheeks, “are we going to talk, or what?”
“Talk?” Marianne tested as smoke passed between her lips.
“Yes, talk,” he reiterated.
“Why?” she countered. “I’m on patrol and you’re out of bounds. I should give you detention.”
“And yet, you’re several floors above Remus, cryin’ and chain smokin’ …”
“You’re one to talk – you’re doing the same,” Marianne answered with a sneer.
As the dust settled, they both took drags from their cigarettes and looked out at the Black Lake again. Neither of them said anything.
“Alright,” Sirius opened up, “since you’re being stubborn, I’ll start.”
After seeing Marianne’s shocked face, he ran his other hand through his extremely messy hair.
“Look, I know this is sudden and I’m Remus’ best mate and all, but let’s face it. I know what it’s like to be stuck within the archaic pureblood society rules - I know what it’s like to feel different. And I know about Remus’ furry little problem, so logically speaking, I’m the best person for you to talk to right now.”
His last line deeply resonated with her. Marianne let out a sharp gasp, which quickly turned into a sob of heartbreak. He watched her struggle to keep her composure, but ultimately she let go of her stoic attitude and broke down completely. Sirius caught her before she collapsed to the floor and Marianne began to wail in his arms. He let her beat her arms on his chest as she muttered French curse words under her breath.
After a few minutes of letting her emotions rule her completely, the heiress sniffled and withdrew from his support. She wiped under her eyes with her chiffon sleeve, but only ended making her face look worse. Sirius would have laughed if the situation hadn’t been so tense.
“You said you’d go first,” Marianne whimpered. He finally let himself smile as he placed his cigarette back in his mouth.
“I received a letter today,” he said as he exhaled and pulled out the parchment. “It’s from Gemma’s father.” He offered it to her with his non-smoking hand. “Go on, read it. It will explain things better than I can right now.”
She timidly took the letter and opened it. He smoked until she read the entire thing. “I-I’m sorry,” was all she could say. Sirius immediately lit up another cigarette when his previous one burned to the butt.
“I’m so repulsive that I made her run away to another continent just to escape me,” he said, his eyes starting to water again. But instead of agreeing with him, Marianne placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” she reasoned. “The last time she ran away, it was right after Valentine’s Day, no? And didn’t she do it because she couldn’t control her gift?” She shrunk when she noticed the bewildered look in his eyes. “I’m s-so sorry, Remus let it slip once -”
“No,” Sirius interrupted, “it’s alright. It’s true.” Marianne smiled.
“I’m not an expert on emotional intelligence, but according to probability, she’s most likely repeating her previous behavior and sorting out her feelings brought about by her Seer genetics. Not avoiding you.”
As she popped another cigarette out of her engraved silver case and lit the end, Sirius chucked under his breath; he could see exactly why Remus was willing to risk it all to be with this woman. She was perfect for him.
“Alright, your turn,” he said after he gave her a moment to exhale. “Are you going to marry Rabastan?”
She paused for a moment.
“I don’t know,” she admitted with a sigh. “I’ve tried to approach this whole thing scientifically, making a list of pros and cons.”
“Go on,” he prodded when she paused again. Marianne rolled her eyes when she pulled out a small piece of parchment from her top. Sirius’ eyebrows popped up in surprise.
“What?” she said. “I like to keep it close in case I’m suddenly struck with an alternate solution.”
He laughed and she began to read her list aloud, adding little embellishments here and there.
“If I say yes … Pro #1: I’m going to have to marry someone eventually, so if I agree now, I won’t have to go through another torturous pureblood matchmaking Season. #2: he has his own money - he’s not trying to swindle me. … but Con #1: he’s a complete connard.” Sirius tried not to laugh. “#2: I wouldn’t be able to sit on the Wizengamot because in his family, it’s embarrassing to have a wife who works.”
She took a shaky breath.
“… And #3: … he’s a Death Eater.”
Sirius’ jaw dropped to the floor. Before he could tell her that saying yes would be a stupid mistake, Marianne carried on.
“If I say no … Pro #1: I won’t have to marry such a vile man. #2: I would be able to work and make a name for myself …”
She tried to blink away a few more tears, but they still rolled down her cheeks.
“There’s only one Con.”
“And that is?”
“If I say no, I’m still going to marry a Death Eater.”
“How do you know that?” asked Sirius as he took another drag.
“Don’t you see?” Marianne hissed, her anger swiftly returning. “By allowing a Lestrange to court me, my parents finally chosen a side; they aren’t neutral anymore, they’ve aligned with Voldemort. It would be extremely offensive if I said no to Rabastan, but in time, they would allow someone else court me – someone who’s affiliated with the Cause.”
“So you say yes - for very superficial reasons, I will add – and you get it over with. But would you honestly be happy?”
Sirius took another drag as Marianne exhaled.
“Being a housewife isn’t so bad - I happen to like children. And there are several pureblood women who use their power and influence to maintain salons to support emerging artists. I suppose I could fund a salon that supports a political cause …”
“Like werewolf rights?” Sirius said with a raised brow. Marianne scowled and put her holder to lips. “You seem to be forgetting one very important factor – where does Remus fit into this new life of yours?”
“Not at all,” she replied very quickly.
The Ravenclaw’s scowl turned into a soft frown.
“He can’t, Sirius,” she muttered darkly. “I am an heiress. I’m expected marry someone who’s my societal equal, not a werewolf. You know that.”
“But don’t you see?” the Gryffindor countered. “If your parents have chosen a side, it’s not a just matter of yes or no anymore.”
“Yes it is.”
“No, it’s not. There’s another option.”
Sirius reached into his never ending pocket to grab his other quill, took the parchment from her hands, and scribbled something across the bottom. Once he finished, Marianne took a moment to read what he had written.
“Choice #3: Say no to all of it,” she repeated. “I don’t get it.”
“Say no to Rabastan, your parents, and the pureblood world,” Sirius clarified, “and starting your own life away from them.”
Her confused face immediately blanched. She moved her lips but no sounds came out.
“You don’t mean -”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Separate from the pack. Become the black sheep.”
Marianne remained still, even when her cigarette reached its end. As Sirius took another drag and watched her still try to process his explanation, she closed her eyes and shuddered.
“That choice has its pros and cons as well.”
“Marianne,” Sirius began as he exhaled and looked out at Black Lake, “don’t be scientific about this, be realistic. Listen to your gut. Does it tell you to marry a pureblood because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do?”
When she remained silent, he turned back towards her.
“I know you feel different – you wouldn’t have fallen in love with Remus if you believed in all that shite. So take it from me, love.” He paused to take another drag and spoke as he held the smoke in his lungs. “Do what makes you happy, even if it means you have to start anew. You’ll be free, that’s all that matters.”
Marianne gulped and averted her eyes towards the green lawn below. Sirius’ cigarette finally reached its end and he fished out his carton. The French aristocrat perked up, but still remained silent as she enviously looked over at his stash.
“Do you want one?” he offered.
“Oh yes please,” she groaned as took a cigarette from him and secured it in her holder. Sirius, being the gentleman that he was, lit the end for her with his wand. Marianne took her first puff and tilted her head back with satisfaction.
“I’m all out,” she finally added. “I just wanted one more - just one before I go back out for patrol.”
Sirius chuckled and then grinned as he set his hands on the windowsill and worked on his cigarette. The two fell into a comfortable silence as they continued to smoke and look out at the fog. Marianne broke the silence, however, when she muttered a spell to clean her face; her dark makeup returned.
“I’ll think about it,” she admitted. “Choice #3.”
“Good,” Sirius grinned.
The French aristocrat snuffed out her cigarette and smiled politely. He watched her gather herself - securing the protective attitude to ward off any trouble – and give him a curt nod. He gave her a salute of confidence before she walked off into the night.
Author’s note: so we’ve got Pete’s chapter, the final group one, and then a JK style epilogue.
Get. Ready. For. Drama.
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